Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII is the property of Square-Enix. No profit is sought from this work. New characters and elements are my own.

Path of Seduction

Chapter Thirty-One

"Can you find your way in the dark?" Ayame asked. Sephiroth gave her a pointed glance up through his bangs as he strapped on his boots. "Ah, of course." Ayame nodded. His eyes looked brighter than she remembered, though it may have been the effect of surrounding night. "Will you come this way again?"

"I'm not certain." Sephiroth straightened and took a look into the dark. It was high time to leave Wutai. He had not meant to come here in the first place. There was work to be done and that was too easy to forget far away from the thready call of the weak minds that searched for him. Unpleasant prospect, but necessary. "I have... a meeting of sorts to attend."

Ayame took a deep breath and tucked her hands in her sleeves to ward off the chill. "Tell your Second I send my greetings, then."

Sephiroth frowned. "Second?"

"For shame, Seph!" The voice sounded miffed. "At least somebody remembers."

Ayame tilted her head at him. "Zack? The boy with the wild hair? The one who used to balance teacups on his forehead?" Now it was her turn to frown. "Is he still your Second? He disappeared around the same time you did."

"He's dead," Sephiroth said, expressionless.

Ayame blinked. "Dead like you're dead or-"

"Dead, dead," Sephiroth said.

"Yep, dead. Sucks."

Ayame could not hold back a sigh. "I am sorry."

"Me too."

"Korin will be sad," Ayame said. "She still wonders about him. I left the okiya to her, you know."

Sephiroth raised one eyebrow. "Then she's likely grown too mature for him. Not that it would have taken much."

"Hey, don't mock the dead!"

"Don't mock the dead, General," Ayame echoed.

"I'm not mocking him, it's the truth!"

"Fine!" Sephiroth's guest huffed. " See if I ever talk to you again!"

"If only," Sephiroth made a wry reply.

"Don't think I won't!" The threat was playful. Sephiroth sighed.

"You can't. Keeping your mouth from running is a physical impossibility."

"Oh, guess what? I'm not exactly physical right now so nyeah!"

Sephiroth exhaled heavily.

"All set, General?" Ayame cut in. Sephiroth nodded, still tracking out his path through the dark. "When you've finished, General," Ayame said quietly, watching closely, "you are welcome here. You and your young lady."

Sephiroth stepped off the porch and turned. He caught Ayame's eyes but said nothing. A moment passed, crowned with silent understanding. Sephiroth bowed deeply, turned and was gone.


"Where to next, Spike? Getting any ideas now?" Barret stretched a kink out of his neck. Cloud was staring across the water, looking maybe a little better than he had when they started out the day before. Maybe the stress was getting to the boy, Barret figured. He may have been a SOLDIER, but he was still a shit-pantsed little punk kid.

Cloud turned with a stare that was too intense for any lost child. "As soon as we get back to the Bronco, we'll head east."

"Finally." Cid slapped his thigh. "You were looking so fucking wasted earlier I didn't think we could trust you not to put your drawers on backwards."

"Huh?" Cloud glanced down, suddenly overwhelmed with an urge to check.

"Spaced out as Spike gets sometimes," Barret said, "we're lucky if he remembered his drawers at all."

"Hey!" Cloud protested.

"Ease up, you two," Tifa said, coming over to Cloud's side. "You are wearing shorts, right?" she whispered.

Cloud sputtered. "Yeah, I mean, I think – YES!"

"It's okay, Cloud." Aeris patted him on the shoulder while she and Tifa shared a smirk. "So East?"

"Yes," Cloud said with just a hint of growly gravel in his voice.

Cid stretched. "And then where?"

"And then..." Cloud looked around the camp, feeling his mind go blank again. Why were they doing this exactly? And what was he looking for? "I- I don't know."

"There he goes again." Barret threw his hands up in the air.

"It's okay," Tifa said. "We'll figure it out, just like we've been doing all along. It depends on where Sephiroth is, right, Cloud?"

Cloud looked up, startled and gave a quiet, "Yes."

"A'ight," Cid said, reaching for his lighter. "Let's break camp and find the Bronco, bitches!"

"Now, see, Cloud," Barret said, thumping Cloud on the back, "That's how you give the order to move out."

"Mm," Cloud nodded, moving automatically to his tent but having a hard time taking his eyes off the water. East. That felt right, but why, exactly?

"Cloud," Aeris said quietly. "Are you okay?"

Cloud snapped back to himself, feeling uncomfortably out of his own head. He wondered if he was coming down with the flu. "I'll be fine."

"Are you sure?" Aeris laid a hand on his forehead. Cloud winced slightly as something flickered past his mind's eye too fast for him to see. Aeris took her hand away, looking puzzled. Cloud didn't think she had been checking his temperature.

"Is Cloud unwell?" Vincent asked, already done and waiting patiently for the rest.

"He'll be okay," Aeris said, though her eyes never left Cloud's face.

"Damn, that's just the last thing we need," Barret huffed, struggling to wrap his tent. "Cloud getting sick, Smokey here giving everybody cancer-"


"And Yuffie's got some freaky rash!"

"I do not have a freaky rash!"

"Oh, yeah?" Cid drawled. He blew a smoke ring above his head, making an elaborate show of it. "What's all those red scrapy marks on you?"

Yuffie huffed. "I was in a big fight, you know. Five people, including my old man and he's no lightweight."

"Alright, alright, whatever you say, kid." Cid toed his wrapped tent and hoisted it on his shoulders. "Just thought you'd have put some ointment on it by now. People might think you have sand burn."

"Sand burn?" Tifa asked, checking Yuffie's reddened elbows over to make sure the girl was okay.

Barret chuckled. "Yeah."

"Yeah, you know, sand burn," Cid continued. "It's like rug burn, 'cept you get it when you fuck on a beach instead."

"Cid," Tifa shrieked, "For goodness sake, man."

"Hey, goodness got nothing to do with it!" Cid grinned and ducked the fist Tifa nearly threw at him.

She made a disgusted sound, spun Yuffie around by the shoulders and walked her off in a saner direction. "Honestly, there's just no redemption for a guy like that."

"Uh huh," Yuffie mumbled, turning as pink as Aeris' dress.


"So, General, Sephiroth, Sephy, Sepherdoodle, Sexyroth-"

"MUST you keep finding more ridiculous ways to mangle my name?" Sephiroth propped himself up on the battered fence but couldn't find it in him to scowl. It was a beautiful day.

"Hey, I can get away with it now, right?" said his guest. "It's not like you're going to grab me by the scruff of my neck and toss me out on my ass."

Sephiroth scoffed. "That's because you don't have a neck for me to grab or an ass for me to toss you out on."

The voice sighed mournfully. "True. Sad, but true. Man, I miss my ass. It was a really nice one."

Sephiroth rolled his eyes. "And people call me vain." A nearby cow made a low moo of agreement.

"So now what, O illustrious General, O sword-dancing demon of the-"

"Knock it off!" Seph batted at the air around him, as if swatting at a fly.

His guest laughed. "Okay, but seriously, now what?"

Sephiroth propped himself up on the fence and stared across fields. "Now I make Aeris happy." He frowned.

"How now, brown cow?" the voice mused airily as Sephiroth moved further along to fence to escape an approaching bovine.

Sephiroth swatted at the air again, this time with reason. "I don't know. What makes a woman happy?"

The voice snickered. "Well, I could give you a few tips if that's what you're looking for," it said, sly-toned.

"I don't need your help to find the clitoris, thank you very much."

"How about the G-spot? Need a map for that?"

Sephiroth sighed heavily. He folded his arms across the fence and set his chin down on them. The sun warmed his face. The grass beneath his feet was lush and springy, stretching out before him in an endless emerald sea, dotted by placid animals and jewel-hued butterflies being buffeted in the soft wind.

It almost made up for the overpowering scent of cow. A mother and calf plodded by, cowbells ringing. Sephiroth wrinkled his nose as they passed. They came to a stop a dozen feet away, the cow idly plucking at the grass while the calf tried to nurse.

"This would be so easy if I could tie Aeris out in a field to graze," Sephiroth said.

"Oh, kinky! I bet she'd let you tie her up if you asked nice." The voice was smirking with lips it didn't have now. "Girl's got a freaky side."

The image of dark lace panties flashed before Sephiroth's eyes. "Don't remind me."

"Ah, who are you kidding, Seph? Moony as you are right now, you'd do drag in a flash if it would make her happy."

Seph scoffed. "I would not."

"Uh huh, sure you wouldn't."

"I wouldn't!" Sephiroth insisted. The voice waited patiently. "Well, maybe if she really, really, really, reaaaaaally wanted me to."


"And if she promised we could try it on the ceiling at some point."

"Uh-huh. Wait, the ceiling?"

Sephiroth smirked. Let the guy chew on that for a bit.

"Heheh," the voice chuckled weakly. "Well, reciprocity's fair, I guess, as long as you're not too pushy."

"I'm not pushy, I'm persuasive."

"Gotcha. Like how you got her to come with you?"

"She is coming, she's just needs some time to tie up loose ends first."

"Right." The voice drifted. Seph could almost feel the presence leaning over the fence with him. "Loose ends would be troublesome. Got to get her hair done, have a night out with the girls, kiss Cloud goodbye..."

"She is not kissing Cloud," Sephiroth snapped, tensing quickly despite the atmosphere.

"Dude, relax." Sephiroth could feel the voice backing up in his head. "I was just saying. And a goodbye kiss isn't a kiss kiss, you know. It's like a friend thing. Like I would give you."

"Let's... not go there again."

"Meh, suit yourself. You have got to do something about that jealousy, though."

"What jealousy?"

"What d'ya mean 'what jealousy'? I just mention Cloud and you're ready to explode in my face".

"I have no reason to be jealous of Cloud," Sephiroth declared out loud.

"Is that so? So how come anytime you hear his name your hackles raise?"

"You said 'kiss Cloud'." Sephiroth grumbled. "Aeris isn't kissing anyone but me."

"Even a goodbye kiss?"

"Even that."

"Jealous bastard."

Sephiroth opened his mouth to protest but then realized that would leave room to call him a liar too. He huddled down on the fence, grumpy and frowning. Stupid love.

The voice sighed. "Seph, for your sake, you better not do anything to drive her away. I don't think you could handle it."

"Handle what?"

"Her leaving, you know. Possibly finding somebody else."

Something wrenched in Sephiroth's chest. He clamped down on it, refusing to acknowledge such an ugly part of his soul. "She won't leave me."

"I know," the voice said. "She's not like that. But just for discussion's sake, what if she did?"

"She won't leave me!" Sephiroth shouted. The cow flicked her ears at him and began to trot away.

"Calm down, Sephiroth. Damn, you have got it bad, and I don't mean that in the good way."

Sephiroth stood rigid, not sure what the voice meant. "I'm just saying," it continued, though Sephiroth really didn't want it to, "because you know that's like, the hallmark of unhealthy there or something. Well, short of trying to kill the girl anyway."

Sephiroth could name something else he wanted to kill at that very moment. The voice seemed to sense it, backing into a corner of Sephiroth's mind, close to recent cherished memories, protected. Sephiroth smirked, watching the calf try to catch up with it's mother. This new guest was infinitely easier to handle than Mother. Where was Mother, anyway? Not that he minded the lack of headaches, but the new one was rather without direction. More concerned with making the relationship work than getting back to the real business at hand.

Sephiroth let his mind spread outward, brushing against the weak, slithering thoughts of the ones robed in black. Their minds were a muddle, lost, dazed and confused while Sephiroth had turned his attention to better things. Sephiroth pulled himself back, hoping to avoid notice, but they were like leeches with no other source to suck from. They sensed him as he turned. He fled, drowning out their broken wails with only will and fury.

"Yoohoo, Sephy-pants, where'd you go?

Sephiroth groaned. "Nowhere pleasant."

"I figured. It's like the weight of the world crashed on you in here. What's eating you all of a sudden?"

"I have things to take care of. Things I've been neglecting."

"Ooh, procrastinator. Been too busy chasing your chickadee, huh?" Sephiroth grunted. He would admit nothing. "Ah, I can't blame you, pal," his guest went on, longing clear in the voice. "That's what's really important in life."

"Sex?" Sephiroth went cynical.

"No, stupid, taking care of the one you love." That, Sephiroth could not argue with. He watched as the cow joined another in the field, tail swishing as she plodded along.

"Sephiroth?" The voice asked.


"You will take care of her, right?"

Sephiroth knew begging when he heard it. "Of course I will. That goes without saying."

"Good." The voice quivered with relief, or something else. "Because that's all I want, you know, for her to be okay. I mean, I'm no good to her stuck here like this and if she's happy, then I can be happy for her, even if it's with you."

Sephiroth's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean 'even if it's with me'?"

"It's not you you," the voice spluttered. "Well, maybe a little but... when she's with you and she smiles that way, I'd give anything to be in your shoes."

Sephiroth smirked. "Who's jealous now?"

"Who wouldn't be?" The voice snapped, bitter. "But I know what's what and what's not possible. Seph, promise me you'll take care of her. Promise me you'll do whatever it takes to make her safe and happy. I'd never want to let her go but I don't have a choice. Just promise me, as long as she's happy, I think I can live... uh, be at peace with it."

"I'll take care of her," Sephiroth answered, as much to shut the voice up as anything. He was tiring of this guest. Too talkative by far, and though he caused no headaches as Mother had, something in Sephiroth was distinctly uncomfortable.

"Heh, guess I should have figured if any girl could turn your head it would be her."

Sephiroth arched an eyebrow, accidently making eye contact with the calf as it peered out from under it's mother's belly. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, you know, you never really seemed into the ladies in Midgar."

Sephiroth sighed. "I couldn't afford to be."

"Too much work?"

"Too much scrutiny."

The voice sighed with him. "Yeah, guess the media was pretty rough on you."

Sephiroth scoffed. "I can handle the media. It was Hojo I worried about."

"Hojo? What the fuck, was he messing in your love life?"

"And then some. He was far too encouraging."

"Encouraging?" The voice seemed confused.

Sephiroth sighed. "He wanted me to breed. He wanted my offspring for the lab, for research. I refused to give him the opportunity."

The voice was silent for a while. "Gods, Seph..."

"I was always careful," Sephiroth insisted. "It was easier eventually to focus on work and find other... outlets for my energy."

"So that's the secret to awesome power on the battlefield," the voice said in awe, weighing the options. "Meh, I think I prefer getting laid."

"So do I, actually," Sephiroth grumbled.

The voice waited. The calf crawled out from under its mother and wandered over to the fence. Sephiroth tried to back away.

"He's still out there, you know," the voice said.

"I know."

"You planning to do anything about it? He'll want her, you know. He had her in the lab already."

Sephiroth recalled his first glimpse of Aeris' pale face. Fluorescent lighting always did give such a sickly glow.

"Seph, if he wants you breeding..."

Sephiroth shuddered, his skin crawling with the ghostly prickings of a thousand long-gone needles. He saw Aeris on her back again, too weak to cry, and the living doll of his dream walking in his every last tortured footstep. "I won't let him," Sephiroth resolved, voice like ice.

"Good," said the voice. "Got a plan, by the way? I wouldn't mind being in on it?"

Sephiroth smirked, running over his grand design. "I'm bound to run into him sooner or later."

"Ooh, goody!" The voice bounced. "Will it be slow?"

"Excruciatingly so if I have anything to say about it." The little calf made a cry and bolted back to its mother.

"Oh, look, you done gone and spooked the cattle. Aeris is really gonna love that."

Sephiroth frowned after the little spotted calf. "I didn't mean to," he mumbled. "Now what?"

"I don't know. Maybe try saying you're sorry?"

"Does that work on cows?"

"Uh, it's the thought that counts, right?"

A.N.: This has got to be the longest honeymoon phase a relationship has ever seen! XD Well, not really, in fic time it's only a matter of weeks and months even if I take years in real time to write. I think I really needed the break, guys. Lots of real life moves and changes left me wanting time to settle and recharge as well, so I've been writing all manner of short fic at my journal instead of botching this up. As always, hoping to keep to it more regularly now that I've had a brief change of pace. Thank you for being here!